Monday, 17 May 2010

Seattle's contenders for rookie of the year?

By Rob Staton
There tends to be obvious candidates for offensive and defensive rookie of the year each season. Last year's offensive winner was Percy Harvin and it was no real surprise. Drafted in the first round, Harvin was expected to be involved quickly for a contender in the NFC. The former Florida playmaker scored eight total touchdowns including a 101 yard return score and registered 790 receiving yards.

The top two defensive candidates were not as obvious. Many expected Aaron Curry to win it, but instead another linebacker - Brian Cushing - took the award. There was obviously some controversy regarding that decision but after a recent re-vote, the former USC Trojan still came out on top ahead of Buffalo's Jairus Byrd. Cushing recorded 133 tackles, four sacks, four interceptions and a safety. Byrd, a 5'10", 200lbs free safety, came second in the poll after a nine interception rookie season.

Looking ahead to this year, have any of the Seahawks' rookie class got a legitimate shot at winning the 2010 awards?

Since the first winner in 1967 (Detroit running back Mel Farr), the offensive rookie of the year has always been won by a quarterback, running back or receiver. However well Russell Okung plays in 2010, it seems unlikely he'll be a candidate to win the award. The obvious big names will be touted as we approach training camp: C.J. Spiller (RB, Buffalo), Dez Bryant (WR, Dallas), Sam Bradford (QB, St. Louis), Ryan Mathews (RB, San Diego), Demaryius Thomas (WR, Denver) and Jahvid Best (RB, Detroit).

Some may even take a punt on second round fliers such as Ben Tate (RB, Houston), Dexter McCluster (RB/WR, Kansas City), Jimmy Clausen (QB, Carolina) and Montario Hardesty (RB, Cleveland). It seems only fair then to add Golden Tate to that list.

I expect the Seahawks will look to get Tate involved early. Wide receiver is a difficult position to learn early in a career especially for a team that is starting out a new playbook and is rebuilding an under performing unit. What Tate has in his favor though, is the ability to be used in a number of ways similar to last year's winner Harvin. Of course, the Vikings playmaker was taken over a round earlier than Tate in last year's draft and has a rare combination of skills that make him a unique talent. However, it appears likely the Seahawks will use Tate as running back, kick returner and receiver in year one - just like Minnesota used Harvin in his rookie campaign.

If some of the other more likely candidates fail to explode onto the scene (Mathews, Bryant and Spiller appear the most likely contenders at this point), there's no reason why Tate can't put himself into the equation. However, a rebuilding Seahawks may also temper their expectations and therefore usage of Tate. Minnesota could afford to test Harvin early with an assortment of talent on both sides of the ball. Seattle has preached competition though so if Tate can enjoy a good training camp, who knows how his role will progress as a rookie?

The last seven defensive rookies of the year have been linebackers. Rolando McClain (Oakland) and Sean Wetherspoon (Atlanta) will be well aware of that heading into 2010. There's also some other big names who will be hoping to end that streak - namely Ndamukong Suh (DT, Detroit), Gerald McCoy (DT, Tampa Bay) and Eric Berry (S, Kansas City).

However, if Jairus Byrd's second place finish in 2009 proves anything it's that Berry and Seattle's own Earl Thomas can put themselves in contention. Byrd didn't play on a great defense in Buffalo - they lacked a consistent pass rush and lost their best cornerback to injury early in the year. However, Byrd still collected nine picks. He was only denied by a monster season from Cushing that he'll struggle to match too many times during his career, especially now he's under a bigger spotlight amid wild controversy.

Like Byrd, neither Berry nor Thomas will be playing behind an elite defensive line (at least, we don't necessarily expect that, but stranger things have happened). It shouldn't affect their ability to make plays - both are talented ball hawks with great anticipation. They'll also be thrust into starting from week one and be expected to hit the ground running.

Both are big enough names that they'll be followed closely by fans and pundits alike. Attention will be diverted to their performances if the stats column begins to light up. Thomas had eight interceptions for Texas last year in just thirteen games and has proven he has the instinct to play at a high level early in his career. It could help that he'll play in a division that contains a rookie quarterback (Sam Bradford) and two quarterbacks whose starting positions are less than secure (Alex Smith and Matt Leinart). Seattle also faces interception machine Jay Cutler in week six, Jason Campbell and his new gig during week eight and host a Carolina team in week thirteen with currently no definitive answer at quarterback.

Needless to say there will be opportunities there for Thomas. However, he's coming up against a stellar class of defensive talent and will need to do more than normal to put himself firmly in contention. Eighteen defensive prospects went in round one this year. Almost all of them will fancy their chances of winning rookie of the year.


Patrick said...

Great article Rob! This will be a very interesting competition to watch. Let's face it, Brian Cushing was a bit of a surprise last year. To think he outperformed Curry is strange, and just shows that draft placement doesn't always mean talent. I would absolutely love to see Tate win this award. Although he was the #60 pick, I actually saw some mock drafts have him going in the first round. I myself thought that St. Louis would snatch him up in the 2nd. Sadly, I could really see Dez Bryant get the award. Its actually very similar to Percy Harvin last year (A talented WR that slips for behavior concerns and lands on a team perfectly suited for their talents).

Austin said...

I think Tate and Thomas both have a decent shot at winning the award. Thomas has a better chance because I see a few offensive guys getting a ton of touches which makes it hard. Everyone is going with Mathews because he will probably see 250-275 touches but I think Best will win the award as Detroit looks to get him the ball a ton next year and his skillset on turf could be scary.

akki said...

Tate's certainly a longshot, and Thomas has better hopes but it'll be hard.

In Tate's case, the deck is stacked against WRs to begin with. I think that decision making for OROY tends to go
1) If a qb had a good year as a starter, pick him.
2) Otherwise if a rb had a good year as a starter, pick him.
3) If neither 1 nor 2, then finally look at WRs. Last year, Harvin was good, but probably only won the award because Stafford and Sanchez were inconsistent, and all the RBs played in timeshares. Otherwise, Harvin's numbers will be close but fall short most years. This year, Bradford's likely to struggle, but I think Ryan Mathews is a front-runner as long as SD keeps feeding him the ball. Tate could get Harvin's 800 yards of receptions and some nice return yardage, satisfying most of us, and still not come close to winning.

DROY always seems to be a linebacker unless a DL gets 10+ sacks or a CB/S gets 7+ interceptions. It's a bias caused by tackles being overvalued thanks to ease of measure. It does certainly help that Thomas has been that kind of ballhawk. But heck, even Ed Reed doesn't get that many picks every year. It's possible Thomas gets good enough numbers to win, and the division opponents help, but I'm sure not expecting it.

Kelly said...

I agree. I believe our best bet for this honor has to be Thomas.

I state this for 2 reasons:

1. Thomas will have every opportunity to start and it wouldn't surprise me to see 6-7 INT's. He will need to out perform a handful of good LB's and Eric Berry to win the honor, but it's definately doable.

2. As for Offense, I have a hard time believing that Okung will win the honor due to the fact that, that OL hardly ever wins the award and although I think Tate will get his touches, I don't see him performing at a high enough level to outshine many of the rookie RB and QB's that are entering the league.

Kelly said...

I'm kind of a stat I ran the #'s since 1967 where the first rookie awards were given.

Here's the breakdown:

QB: 4
RB: 31
WR: 8
OL: 0

72% running backs!

CB: 6
S: 2
LB: 22 (9 out of the last 10 were LB. 7 in a row. Julius Peppers is the only one to break the mold)
DE: 8
DT: 5

51% LB

I think this goes to show you that the odds of having a 2010 rookie of year in Seattle are NOT in our favor.

Its interesting to note that the LB in this years draft class were not super strong other than Mcclain and witherspoon. If Suh or McCoy transition nicely to the NFL they could add to there small # of 5 awards...but still 9 out of 10 as LB makes it hard even for them to win the award.